By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
LAKE CRYSTAL — A dispute between James Nibbe’s family and the father of the woman convicted of killing him has a state lawmaker looking for ways to change the way property is handled after a someone is accused of killing a spouse.
Leslie Nibbe Johnson, James Nibbe’s sister, said her family is still attempting to recover property from Jennifer Nibbe’s father, Dan Gilman, even though he has received a court order to turn it over to them. Gilman took the property from James and Jennifer Nibbe’s house south of Lake Crystal after Jennifer Nibbe was arrested for shooting and killing her husband while he slept.
When the family asked for items that belonged to them, such as hunting equipment that James Nibbe’s brother stored at the house, Gilman told them they couldn’t have it unless they had proof of ownership, Johnson said. Gilman told the Nibbes the property belonged to his daughter unless they could prove otherwise.
The family filed a lawsuit attempting to get the items back while Jennifer Nibbe was in jail awaiting trial. A judge issued an order, along with a list of personal items, that Gilman was supposed to return to Johnson and her family after Jennifer Nibbe was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The list included some of that hunting gear, afghans and quilts made by James Nibbe’s grandmother, a high school class ring and woodworking tools.
State Rep. Tony Cornish said a problem with existing property laws is there is nothing requiring household valuables to be inventoried after someone is accused of killing a spouse.
In the Nibbe case, Gilman legally removed the property from his daughter’s house without telling anyone what he had taken or what he was doing with it.
“We’re trying to solve the problem that (Johnson) ran into where nobody knows where anything is,” Cornish said. “Right now there’s nothing anyone can do to keep someone from going into a house and emptying it.”
Cornish and Johnson are working on a law that would be similar to financial requirements couples have to comply with while going through a divorce. Investments, savings and other valuables are inventoried early on so they can be split fairly during the court process.
They are meeting with three lawyers — a criminal lawyer, a probate lawyer and a legislative researcher — in St. Paul next week to start work on a rough draft for the legislation, Cornish said. Those attorneys will advise Cornish about whether or not it is possible to write a new law that will address the problem.
“If we find in our meeting that we can do this, we’ll write up the reform legislation and introduce it — maybe during the first week of January,” he said. “Then we’ll take testimony and, in Leslie’s case, she can talk about the long line of tears her family has gone through to get anything back.”
Johnson said her family hopes something can be done.
“We just want our things back,” Johnson said. “Even if it’s too late for us, we want to change the law, in Jim’s name, so no one else has to go through this.”